– Nigel Slater on beetroot (from “Tender”)
I nearly always return from the farmer’s market with at least one item that I hadn’t planned for. It might be that I’m unable to resist something unexpected, or perhaps there’s one vegetable or fruit that looks exceptionally fresh that day. It might just be that the colours are particularly stunning, or that I’m reminded of a recipe forgotten until that moment. Whatever the reason, I always then enjoy spending time and effort planning exactly what I should do with it. This week it was beetroot and my excuse was not only that I have a real fondness for it, but also – simply – that it looked superb. Back at home I turned straight to Nigel Slater’s “Tender” (subtitle: “A cook and his vegetable patch”). It’s one of my favourite food books, and contains so much more than recipes. It’s a great read on any day of the year, and whether I’m looking for something in the middle of winter or on a hot summer day, I always manage to find inspiration.
He begins the chapter on beetroot by considering of some of the flavours that contrast and complement its sugary, earthy taste as well as the stunning, blood-red colour of its juice. Among the mass of delightful images that he conjures, I notice that he mentions aged cheese, and particularly goat’s and sheep’s cheeses, with their strong and salty flavour. Given my recent visit to the wonderful Rinconada Dairy, this is a perfect pairing. Opting to make a salad, I choose to use the Carrizo, a hard goat’s cheese that is similar in style to Pecorino with a full-bodied, intense and complex taste. I had to adapt the recipe by substituting some of the ingredients for those that are available from my cupboards (and the recipe below reflects these changes), but the overall result remains excellent. It’s a robust salad, bursting with colour and flavour that would certainly make a wonderful lunch. I served it as a main dish, accompanied by some boiled new potatoes (tossed with a little butter and fresh chopped parsley), and thick slices of home-baked ham.
Recipe: Goat’s Cheese and Beetroot Salad
For the salad:
4 medium beetroot
200 g mixed salad leaves
A handful of toasted pine nuts
A handful of grated goat’s cheese
For the dressing:
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon wholegrain mustard
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons roughly chopped parsley
Trim the leaves from the beetroot taking care not to cut the skin – doing so will allow the juice to bleed their bright red juice, which will seep into the cooking water and leave you with a pink vegetable. Wipe the beetroot clean of any mud or sand. Put them in the boiling water and turn down to an energetic simmer. Test them occasionally with a skewer for tenderness – they should be ready in 30-50 minutes depending on their size and age.
Divide the greens between the plates, toss gently with some of the dressing, and tuck in the beetroot. Scatter the pine nuts and goat’s cheese over the salad and serve.